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Breath Tests

It is very likely that a police officer who pulls someone over for suspected driving under the influence will ask that person to take a chemical test that allows him to determine their blood alcohol content. A sample of the driver’s breath is one of the most common of the tests.

Police officers and state troopers can use either a portable device or a stationary one to test someone’s breath. They will also read a DL – 26 form, also known as the “O’Connell warning,” which is an implied consent statement, when they ask a driver to submit to a BAC test. It is very important to understand that these devices have a lot of problems. Even so, if a person who agrees to the test has a blood alcohol content of 0.08 or higher, he will be charged with DUI. Mistakes made by the operators of the machines and the problems associated with the devices can often lead to the dismissal of drunk driving charges.

Pennsylvania Breath Tests and How They Work

Generally, police will use one or both of two types of breath tests:

  • Portable or preliminary breath test, also known as PBT: these are used during roadside testing of suspected drunk drivers. A few of the most commonly used ones include Intoxilyzer 500 devices, AlcoCheck, and BACmaster devices. Law enforcement officers will request the suspected drunk driver to blow into the portable device. The results may be used as probable cause to require the driver to submit to additional testing. The portable breath test devices display results on an LCD screen but do not print them out. The results are not admissible in court, and the driver has the right to refuse to submit to one.

  • Evidential or stationary breath test, also known as EBT: Stationary breath tests are larger machines and are located at police stations. A suspected drunk driver will face serious penalties for refusing to take one. PennDOT regulations require more than one sample of someone’s breath on one of these machines. This will also make sure that they get reliable samples. The results of these tests can be used in court. They are printed out. The Alco test, DataMaster, and Breathalyzer models are examples of the kinds of machines approved for use in Pennsylvania.

Errors in Breath Test Machines

Though devices that analyze breath for blood alcohol content are assumed to be accurate, there are any number of problems with the machines that can cause false positive results. The following is a list of some of the most common issues:

  • Software glitches or bugs
  • Environmental factors
  • Electromagnetic interference, also known as EMI, or radiofrequency interference, also known as RFI
  • Machine’s assumed blood breath partition ratio causes overestimation of BAC
  • Improper maintenance
  • Non-ethyl alcohol substances included in machine’s test results
Breath Test Operator Mistakes

Sometimes, the breath test devices work properly, but the DUI cases that result are dismissed because the people performing the tests made mistakes or oversights. PennDOT has instituted specific requirements for how breath test should proceed. Any deviation from those procedures can result in blood alcohol content being disallowed as evidence, which means the prosecutor is not able to prove DUI.

Below is a list of mistakes made by officials, including police officers, that conduct breath tests. This is not a comprehensive list.

  • Administration of the breath test by a police officer not certified to do so
  • Test performed when the alleged offender was in the peak absorption period
  • There is a big difference between BAC samples
  • Samples of the driver's breath were not taken within the set time period
  • Officers failed to conduct an observation period
  • Lack of proper calibration of the breath test machine

If you have recently submitted to a breath test in the Pittsburgh area, you will want to hire an attorney with experience in DUI defense as soon as possible. The attorneys at Logue Law have extensive training in chemical BAC testing procedures, including breath tests. Their extensive experience in these cases helps them assist people in navigating the criminal justice system, and getting them the best outcome possible for their cases. Call Sean Logue and his associates at 1-844-PITT-DUI or 412-389-0805 today. They can be reached online here. Consultations are free. Available 24/7, they serve Pittsburgh, PA, Ohio, and West Virginia.

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